Winery survives midnight blaze

By Nathan Crombie nathan.crombie@age.co.nz -
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The heat-buckled remnants of a large storage shed that was razed in a midnight fire at Murdoch James Estate Winery near Martinborough overnight Wednesday. PHOTO/NATHAN CROMBIE
The heat-buckled remnants of a large storage shed that was razed in a midnight fire at Murdoch James Estate Winery near Martinborough overnight Wednesday. PHOTO/NATHAN CROMBIE

The Murdoch James Estate Winery near Martinborough lost more than a half million dollars' worth of property in a midnight blaze that volunteer firefighters battled for hours to tame, says winery boss Roger Fraser.

Mr Fraser said neighbours living near the Dry River Rd winery alerted him about the fire that had erupted in a 250sq m half round shed at the vineyard about 11pm on Wednesday.

He lives away from the site and was taken aback as he drove toward the winery and saw the fire burning on the horizon, he said.

"I headed out and saw flames on the horizon from about eight miles away. When I finally got to the vineyard and saw the winery wasn't on fire, I was really quite relieved."

Mr Fraser said the burning building was at the rear of the vineyard and was "totally ablaze" when he arrived. The first of eight fire crews from throughout Wairarapa were at the scene soon afterward, including a water tanker from Carterton and a specialist breathing apparatus unit from the Hutt.

He said emergency services crews were at the scene for more than four hours and he praised the numerous volunteers and paid firefighters who had turned out.

Firefighters kept the flames from dry grass near the shed and had also prevented fire from spreading to a neighbouring building.

The blaze destroyed the larger shed along with a pair of "very expensive" tractors, two side-by-side quad bikes, and equipment like chainsaws, weed-eaters and sprayers.

He said the winery had lost to the fire more than $500,000 worth of property, vehicles and equipment. "It's horrendous. I was pretty sad last night and gutted this morning but the main thing is that no-one was hurt. All that machinery can be replaced and in the cold light of day, it could have been far worse."

A fire investigator examined the scene of the blaze yesterday morning, Mr Fraser said, and arson had been ruled out. A likely cause was yet to be established.

The fire had not affected vineyard routine, he said, with a large tour party hosted at the winery yesterday morning and seasonal work carrying on, including the laying of about $200,0000 worth of custom netting. "We're incredibly lucky really, because our bird nets were all in the shed that burned. But they were taken out that very day and placed around the vineyard, ready to be put up."

Mr Fraser said the loss of the nets would have been a severe blow to the business.

"We would have been very exposed. It was crucial because all the nets are cut to size for our vineyard. Without the nets, we could have lost up to 25 per cent of the crop in bird damage."

Mr Fraser was still expecting a bumper harvest this year of about 400 tonnes of fruit despite the fire.

"It's been a cracker year and we're looking forward to a great vintage.

"It was a lucky save."

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